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It Isn't You

Did you see this article? It's about a study that was done on creative people in the workplace, and how having passion for your work comes at a price. The price is that you aren’t paid enough.

"Artists know passion exploitation well: because they take pleasure in performing, taking photos or writing, onlookers see the opportunity to do this work as a privilege in its own right—and use that reasoning to justify a lack of compensation or benefits." Quite the quote, isn't it? I highly recommend reading the article, and the links. CLICK HERE FOR THE ARTICLE.

One of the challenging things about being an artist is the gaslighting that goes on. For those of you who don’t know the term, it comes from a 1944 movie with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. He’s trying to convince her that she’s crazy, and his methods include telling her that she’s imagining things when the gaslights get brighter and dimmer. The term is now used to mean convincing people that something false is true.

When I use the term, especially here on the blog, the gaslighting of artists include:

  • Making them feel that suffering for your art is noble or necessary.
  • Telling artists that they should do the work for exposure rather than money.
  • Letting artists believe that talent alone is sufficient for a career in the arts.

I’m going to add my example of gaslighting. Letting artists think that their passion should make money not necessary. That having a job you love, or being able to practice your craft, is so great that not making a living wage is tolerable. That working twice the agreed upon hours is necessary.

I’m not in any way saying that some of this isn’t partially true. We work long hours. Internships are part of the apprenticeship process. The funding systems are broken (in the United States) so money is an issue.


Let’s talk about what we need to do to break this cycle.

  • How do we stop the puritanical belief that loving what you do means you shouldn’t get paid for it?
  • How do we help folks understand the value of the arts, and the work of artists?
  • How do we prioritize paying artists? IMHO I think the two top priorities of the performing arts budget should be paying artists and marketing.
  • How do we advocate for more revenue streams for the arts?
  • How do we help folks understand that free isn’t ever really free? And that free being done on the backs of artists is not sustainable?
  • How do we all recognize the true value of the arts, and learn the best way to communicate it to folks who don't see it?

The article I referenced at the beginning of this post was infuriating, but it was also illuminating. The world needs artists to do their work for so many reasons. How can we change this conversation?

We all need to shift our expectations. Get rid of the idea that suffering is noble. Begin advocating for the sector as well as ourselves. Figure out the best ways to make the case, and double down on those efforts.

It isn’t you. There’s some gaslighting going on. Now that you know that, what can you do to change the situation? What can we all do together?

Understanding the business side of the arts will give you a lens to help you with the work that needs to be done. Arm yourself with knowledge. Your work is too important not to.

Interested in getting started making your case? Click here and download a FREE workbook that will take you through Step 1 of the Your Ladders 5-Step System: Setting the Groundwork


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